TikTok Newsletter 56

Special Edition: Broken Promises 💔


This is Understanding TikTok – your TikTok newsletter. My name is Marcus. TikTok has overtaken YouTube for average watch time in US and UK (BBC).

For the last couple of weeks i have been investigating German TikTok ahead of the German Federal Election together with Becca Ricks for Mozilla. Here is our full report: Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election. I will present the major findings here too.

This week we talk about:

😒 Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election
✊ TikTok and political activism
📦 Stuff

😒 Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election

Fake accounts of the German parliament and the German president, a simplistic labeling approach that does not work efficiently and a promised partnership with external fact-checkers that got signed only days before in-mail voting started. These are the findings of the report i have been working on together with Becca Ricks and the fine people of Mozilla foundation  in the past weeks.

There are 11 million TikTok users in Germany, according to the platform. For context: There are roughly 11 million pupils in Germany and 11 million Netflix-subscribers. Despite its reputation for viral songs and silly dances, various studies have shown that politics and political groups have a strong presence on TikTok. This is certainly true for TikTok in Germany, where in recent months parties and politicians have flocked to the platform.

”In recent blog posts and communications, TikTok highlighted three major steps it would be taking in connection with the German election to protect “the integrity”: (1) Labeling election-related videos; (2) Fact-checking with external partners; and (3) Enforcing its Community Guidelines.

Our research demonstrates that so far these efforts have been neither very successful, nor especially extensive:

(1) TikTok’s automated election banners are not working effectively

TikTok is labeling political TikTok videos. The problem here is their simplistic approach relying on single hashtags. This leads to a vast overlabeling with endless videos being labeled without being political at all, while on the other hand some of the videos on the official TikTok accounts of Die Linke and AfD go unlabeled because of missing hashtags.

(2) TikTok has only just begun external fact-checking, weeks before the election

Ahead of the German election, TikTok has been quite vocal about its fact-checking partnership with Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (dpa), the largest press agency in Germany. When we asked dpa about the partnership, Jens Petersen, dpa’s Head of Communication, told us that as of August 13, the dpa “was not yet officially commissioned by TikTok“ to do any kind of fact-checking. On September 7, Petersen confirmed that a contract had finally been signed at the end of August. Given that German voters began mail-in voting as early as September 5, that does not leave much time for efficient fact checking ahead of the election.

(3) TikTok is failing when it comes to enforcing its community guidelines

We found several fake accounts clearly violating TikTok’s community guidelines. Among them imposter accounts of the German president and German parliament. The fake German parliament account with 14K followers (more than the official Twitter account) and more than 130K likes spread political propaganda in favour of the AfD for months. It was taken down only after Mozilla told TikTok about the account. If you have any questions about the report or its findings please let me know.

✊ TikTok and political activism

I had the great pleasure to kick off a conference organized by Heinrich Böll Foundation and the German Feuilleton website Nachtkritik with a keynote on ‘TikTok and political activism’. As an avid reader of the newsletter you might have seen some of the links here and there. Nonetheless i curated some of the examples and  links and turned the keynote into a Twitter thread. Here it is.

📦 Stuff

📍 The D’Amelio kids are not all right, Rebecca Jennings writes and you should read it just to learn about the “non-exhaustive list of some of the things Charli says over the course of the eight-episode series”

📍 The great TikTok Cultures Research Network has another event upcoming: TikTok and Social Movements will be held virtually on 20 September 2021. The event will be a half-day online Symposium (on Zoom) to showcase emergent research on the potentials, promises, pitfalls, and parameters of such social movements on TikTok.

📍 How TikTok Serves Up Sex and Drug Videos to Minors, reports WSJ while Sophia Smith Galer writes Anti-Vaxxers Are Learning How To Game TikTok’s Algorithm – And They’re Going Viral for Vice.

📍 In other worlds Brooke Shields Is Ready to Master TikTok (Vogue) while Thom Yorke discusses Radiohead’s “embarrassing” TikTok stats (NME).

That is that. And here is a TikTok video find that got some attention due to the fact that Johnny Haeusler shared it. Thanks! Speak soon. Marcus